“If you want to change the world, make your bed.” No, these ‘words of wisdom’ are not my mom’s. This is lesson #1 on Retired Navy Seal and Commander of the US Special Forces Admiral William H. McRaven’s list of 10 Life Lessons.
McRaven outlined his 10 Life Lessons in a 2014 commencement speech delivered at the University of Texas. McRaven offered these lessons, learned while attending six months of Basic Seal Training, some 37 years ago, to the graduating seniors as a “how to” on changing the world. McRaven’s speech inspired me to make my bed every day, and it’s a lesson I continue to impress upon my own children!
A sense of hope
So, what is so life changing about making your bed? Well, as Admiral McRaven describes it, despite its being a mundane task, it’s the first task of the day. And when done properly, it gives you a sense of accomplishment and inspires you to do yet another task. It’s also a reminder that the little things in life do matter, and that if you can’t do the little things, you will never be able to accomplish the big ones.
McRaven goes on to say, “that if by chance you have a miserable day, at the very least, you have a made bed to come back to, a bed made by you, reminding you tomorrow will be better.” He finishes by saying, “So if you want to change the world, start by making your bed.” A made bed inspires hope.
Little things are important
How does this hope relate to the little things and even to the big things? The best way to explain this is with a book called “101 Secrets a Good Dad Knows.” It’s a favorite of mine. It highlights the lighter side of parenting.
The 101 Secrets are small tasks and little lessons that seem irrelevant in this day and age, but are, nonetheless, quite valuable. As you read it, you are swept back to a time of simpler pleasures. Images of Andy Griffith may pop into your head (if you’re old enough to remember Andy Griffith) along with a wistful nostalgia that reminds you that life is not always all business.
The great thing about the way the book is written is that it also stresses the importance of the small things. Within each small task lies its relationship to ‘the big picture.’
For instance, while you’re teaching your child how to tie a fly, the child sees the value of how important it is to do a good job. The child inevitably learns the lesson of the value of patience and investing time in making a perfect fly. In the end, the child sees that the fruits of his or her labor will be judged – in this case, by the fish of course.
Our job as a parent
Life is a series of tasks to be met, and it’s important to teach our children what they need to know to accomplish those tasks. But this is also an allegory for living a good Catholic Life. Our job as fathers is to teach our children the skills that will put them on the road to a successful life. But what is success? It is certainly, not just success in a worldly sense. The success must be rooted in our teaching our children to be better people and to put God before everything else.
To a young child, everything seems much bigger than they are. Making them understand that they are still significant to God’s plan is important because it shows them that even one small person can make a difference. As parents, it’s also important for us to prepare them for life’s ups and downs. Showing them how faith, hope, and love play an integral part in their lives will give them the gifts of hope and optimism, which is so important today.
As fathers, we celebrate our children’s successes and share in the joy of their accomplishments. But what about their failures? How do we deal with them? Hopefully we empathize and teach them to grow from those failures, to not be discouraged, or lose faith.
Losing is as much a part of life as winning is. And losses can teach us far more because in losing we achieve growth, humility, and the desire to try harder. Our journey in life will no doubt encounter strife. In such times we will need our wits, our experience, and above all, hope. All things we will have learned from our fathers.
Setting an example
There is something inherently Biblical about being a father. As a father, I look to my own father for his example. My father was a man who worked three jobs to put my brother and me through college, and never complained. He wanted what every good father wants for his children – happiness and success.
There is something altruistic in a parent who wants to make a better life for his or her child. This altruism is evident in the sacrifices they make so their children may have better opportunities. Who does that sound like? Much the way we learn from our own fathers, we are all learning from Jesus’ example. Remember that Jesus’ teachings on life were rooted in parables, simple stories about small things that allude to a larger lesson.
God’s Word has always been a guidebook for life and parenting as well. Perhaps no story illustrates this better than the parable of The Prodigal Son. The lessons from the story speak to us on many levels. Obviously as fathers, we are first reminded of the themes of unconditional love and mercy. As fathers, we do not expect our children to be perfect, but we do expect them to trust in our love. We want them to know that no matter what they are still our children and we will always love them and forgive them.
Our Father Who Art in Heaven
As children, and even as adults, we need to know that God, like our own fathers, will always be there for us. We acknowledge that we are sinners, and that despite our unworthiness, He still loves us. Our faith, our hope, and our love remind us that God loves us despite our failings. No matter where we go, or what we do, we can always come back to Him, and He will be waiting for us.
Billy Graham once said, “A good father is one of the most unsung, unpraised, unnoticed and yet one of the most valuable assets in our society.” As I look back at my own father, no truer words were spoken. The demands made of him were nothing short of unbelievable, and nonetheless, he met them without hesitation.
As fathers we should always be examples to our children. We should stress to them that the tools needed for them to succeed in life are first and foremost spiritual, but that life’s little lessons matter too, since we do live in the world. In the end they come together with the spiritual to make the big picture.
The Father is always teaching. Are we listening?